A few months ago I was looking for some mixing bowls in our church kitchen. Every cabinet and drawer in the kitchen was labeled. Whether it was utensils, pans, or cleaning supplies...everything had a place.
I couldn't find the mixing bowls. After about 10 minutes of frustration, I decided to open every cabinet and drawer until I could find them. As usual...I found what I was looking for in the last cabinet I opened. That particular cabinet was labeled "Misc". How convenient...
Labels mean a lot. They help us assign things to make them easier to find or identify. But it's not just things we use labels for...we do it for people too. Unlike things, how we label individuals is a little more important.
Coming off of our last blog on making the best connect card, we thought it was fitting to talk about how we label the people who come to our churches for the first time. In the church, we usually label to these people as "visitors" or "guests". I got to thinking about these labels and wondered...Does it matter which we use?
Coming from a small town whose lifeblood was high school football, we had the home stands and the visitor bleacher stands. The visiting team stands were small and uncomfortable aluminum seats that got blazing hot in the Florida heat. Ours were concrete and sat high up to give a better view. The parents and friends of the visitor team were tolerated...but not welcome. We were not going to invite them over to our house for a cookout after the game. Once the game was over, we would part ways and never see each other again until next year.
Whether we would like to admit it or not...how we perceive and treat people in our church is dependant on how we label them. Though guests and visitors share the commonality of being non-locals in a place, their treatment is done accordingly to which they are considered.
In my home, guests are people whom I've planned for or want to be there. These are people whom I offer up my seat to and ask if they would like something to drink. If they are staying over, I make sure there is a clean and made up bed for them and tell them to "make themselves at home". The guest is cherished and is made aware that I am there to serve them.
Unlike a guest, a visitor at my home is someone whom I've neither planned for nor may not want to be there. This is the door-to-door salesman, the annoying neighbor, or the stranger passing out the missing cat posters. Now don't get me wrong, I'm still going to be the loving Christian and take the missing cat poster. But, the effort on my end to be welcoming will not compare to someone whom I consider a guest.
In church, we should always be referring to the people who come through our doors for the first time as guests. Like a good host, we should be overly prepared and be ready to serve them. They should feel at home in our church. They should feel important. After all, how can we expect a guest to make a decision like joining the church or accepting Christ if they don't feel welcome in the house of God?
A friend of mine told me a story about a church he visited years ago. He sat down in the pew and a guy came up to him and said: "you're sitting in so and so's seat". At first, he thought he was joking, but the look on his face made it very clear to him that he was not kidding. He got up... moved...sat through the service...and never came back to that church again. He was no guest in that church...he was simply a visitor that was sitting in someone else's seat.
Obviously, we don't want to get tied up in the semantics of calling people visitors or guests. Accidentally calling a guest a visitor is not going to cause them to be offended and leave. 99.4% of them may never even notice a difference. But, we need to always be cognizant that there is a big difference between the two. What matters is not what we call them, it's how we treat them.
Are we serving guests or are we tolerating visitors?